1 Kings 8.37-53 (Morning Prayer). Colossians 3.1-11. Luke 6.20-26
May my mouth and our hearts be opened in the name of the Living God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our readings today, like the Eucharist, give a foretaste of the Kingdom. Actually, if we fully attend to them, they draw us into that foretaste, where opposites are reconciled and the eschatological reversal, characteristic of the Kingdom, is made real.
Lest we are tempted, however, for a single moment to indulge our egos in that foretaste, or assume that this may be our final state, our Gospel is also confronting, the reading from Kings at Morning Prayer reminds us that “there is no one who does not sin”, and we have to acknowledge the evil connected with this day, September 11.
Eighteen years ago, two key themes of our gospel, reversal of fortune and vulnerability, became a catastrophic reality for 3000 people at the heart of the most powerful, most secure empire on earth. Today, we and the world remember them.
We remember also the false prophecies that arose in the wake of this tragedy, promulgated by men who were ‘spoken well of’. False prophecies that had their own Orwellian reversals and another in a long line of wars to ensure peace, which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands. And today, we remember them also.
However, unless we have an interest in modern history or were raised in a military family, we may not remember the firestorms of the Second World War: devasting bombing raids involving hundreds of bombers focused on a single city. Such a Firestorm occurred over Darmstadt on September 11, 1944. Over 8000 people were killed, virtually all of them civilians. Today, few people remember them.
This is not to discount or relativize the deaths in the United States or to deny we need to act against the threat of evil – that would be crass and foolhardy. It simply to acknowledge that where empire exists, evil persists. And that evil is too much for us to bear – we can’t even remember the victims.
Our faith tells us that to counter empire and defeat this evil Christ incarnates, sanctifying the whole of Creation and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
As we have seen, for Luke this coming Kingdom is connected with reversals; it begins with that amazing, unprovoked song of revolution, the Magnificat five chapters earlier, where the powerful are brought down, the lowly lifted, the hungry filled and the rich dismissed with naught. Jesus then, is following his Mother’s good example.
Before the Gospel today he has come down from a Mountain with his disciples to a level place. Now, Luke somehow has Jesus ‘looking up’ to his disciples. He then pronounces four extraordinary blessings and four challenging woes.
The poor, the hungry, the weeping and the reviled are blessed and a reversal is coming or in the case of the poor already in existence … the Kingdom is theirs now, not in the future.
Conversely, the full, the laughing and respected are warned and a calamitous reversal is coming or, in the case of the rich, there is no further comfort to come.
How are we to comprehend this? We can take the easy route and side with one perplexed commentator when he wrote, “I don’t understand this, and neither do you!”.
We may rescue the text a little, focusing on future promises, and hope we don’t fall into a vapid “it will all be right in heaven”. This ignores present suffering – and of course it doesn’t explain the poor of the text being told theirs is the Kingdom NOW.
We may view the text as Jesus distinguishing between mundane, worldly and easily understood values, and those of God which are radical and opaque, inviting faith not understanding. Such a dichotomy though makes it all too easy to assign ideas, theologies and people to one category or the other.
Interpretation is not easy, and obviously Luke never meant it to be.
Another way is to focus on the text as depicting extreme vulnerability and change, not so much as interpreters, but as disciples and see where that leads us.
In the text, Jesus is surrounded by a “great multitude” of vulnerable people – those looking for healing and exorcism – the unclean and expendable. Empire and religion have taken everything from these people; they have no food, no money, no joy of life and no reputation.
However, by declaring that the Kingdom is theirs NOW, Jesus affirms, the one thing that empire and religion cannot steal, the one prerequisite for the Kingdom – their humanity, their personhood. Being created by God, no mortal power can touch our personhood – no matter who we are, rich or poor, outcast or accepted, rejoicing or grieving.
And no matter who we are, we are subject not only to vulnerability but to change; the crying, rejoice, and the grieving, laugh. The ultimate change and vulnerability though is not loss of food, status, money or merriment, it is death. And so, we come to the final reversal, that of life to death and death to life within our Lord Jesus Christ.
So perhaps the function of these reversals in Luke, is to point to the One who reconciles them all in himself, who destroyed forever the barriers we erect between us and them, insider and excluded, rejected and loved.
In a moment we will consume this collapsing of human created barriers bodily as we partake of the One Bread as the One Body. And as one body, we know that while there is one person in the world who is hungry, we are all hungry; while there is one person who is weeping, we are all weeping. For this is the way of the Kingdom which the Eucharist opens for us now.
This way, as Paul reminded the Colossians is one where distinctions of religion, nation and status cease. Not because there is a homogenous collapsing and eradication of difference, but because difference fosters community. True community centres around that which unites us – our common personhood, our common vulnerability to change and to death and so therefore, our common reliance on He who once was dead but now lives forever.
And what does this profound theological reflection of Paul’s have to say to us today, as ecclesia, called out to this Holy Hill, discerning the will of God? What might it say to us as we descend the hill and serve on the level places, where we may, like Christ lower ourselves, and look up at his disciples as a servant leader? Might it be that we as church have also been stripped of the old self, and are clothed with the new? Might it be that this new self is constantly being renewed. And in that renewal there is no longer Evangelical and Catholic, no longer priest and male priest, no longer gay and straight … no longer Sydney and Perth; but that Christ is all and in all. Amen.